Swallowing My Pride

Warning: This post talks frankly about suicidal ideation.

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If you had asked me the question, “Are you feeling safe?” 2 years ago, I probably would have laughed at you and said, “Of course I feel safe!” But safety takes on a whole new meaning when you’re dealing with mental illness. Since I started dealing with depression, there have been some days where I couldn’t answer that question in the affirmative. There have been days when I haven’t trusted myself to drive, so Stephen and I would carpool. One time my friend wanted to hang out but I was scared to leave the house, so she came and got me and took me to a movie. It is humbling having to admit that I can’t be trusted with myself, with my own thoughts. But it is also wise. If I were to foolishly insist on not having my privacy invaded in these ways, if I were to insist that I could take care of everything myself–like a “normal” person would–then I honestly might be dead. That is why psychiatric hospitals exist–to keep people safe when they cannot do so on their own. 

The other night my husband sat at the kitchen table and we began our weekly ritual: he watched me while I painstakingly refilled my pill box. Until I became depressed, I didn’t give much thought to the medications I took; swallowing pills was a routine I got accustomed to after I got diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. But once depression struck, the pills became more than medication meant to help me function in a healthy way; they became a way for me to end my life. I spent hours fantasizing about swallowing whole bottles of pills. I thought of ways to sneak out of the house with all of my pills and go somewhere else to silence the storm raging in my mind. I would look at the pills in my hand and calculate how many I could take to make a lethal dose. I couldn’t be sure, so I figured the more, the better. 

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Fortunately, I have been in therapy for over a year now, and when the subject of all of those pills came up in a session last September, my therapist insisted that safety measures be put into place at home. The first thing I had to do was tell my husband what I was thinking, which was a very hard conversation to have. The second thing I needed to do was find a way to prevent myself from having access to my medication. Such an idea was repulsive and embarrassing. What kind of person can’t even handle her own medications? My pride bristled greatly at the idea that I couldn’t control myself or trust myself enough to be responsible with my pills, but deep down I knew that the last thing I needed to do at this point in time was trust myself. So Stephen and I researched lock boxes and safes and found one that would work for our purposes. I bought a pill box with detachable containers for each day, so only one day can be out at a time. Now, each morning Stephen puts out that day’s meds and locks the rest of them up in the box, using the code only he knows. 

I say all of this not to garner sympathy or be overly dramatic, but to help you see what mental illness does to a person. Rational thoughts quickly are replaced with irrational ones, and thus it becomes easy to think that my loved ones are better off without me. I have always considered myself a responsible, trustworthy person. I never thought I would think about hiding pills from my husband and make secret plans to leave him and my family, but I have been that person. I wish I weren’t, and hopefully one day this will all be a thing of the past. Until then, I swallow my pride along with my pills and do what I can to keep myself safe so I can be present for years to come. I am grateful that God has stayed my hand and saved me from myself dozens of times. I am grateful He has given me a husband who does the hard things because he loves me. Thanks to both of them, I can lie down and sleep in safety.

Resources for the Suffering

I don’t claim to be an expert on suffering. Nevertheless, life has been difficult for me the past few years, and I’ve had to find ways to cope with that difficulty. The struggles have made me painfully aware of how weak I am and how much I need Jesus, so in that way they are valuable, but that doesn’t make them easier to bear. So what do you do when suffering comes knocking, as it is guaranteed to do at some point as long as you are living on this earth? How do you handle it? There are many answers to this question, and both healthy and unhealthy responses. But for now I wanted to share some of the ways that I have fought against despair in the midst of suffering, in the hopes that someone reading this will find something to benefit him/her.

Scripture

The most necessary “weapon” to fight against despair is without a doubt the Word of God. I truly do not know what I would do without it. This list is not exhaustive but includes many verses that have sustained me.

Psalm 13, Psalm 22, Psalm 30, Psalm 31, Psalm 40, Psalm 42, Psalm 61, Psalm 62, Psalm 70, Psalm 73, Psalm 77, Psalm 86, Psalm 88, Psalm 103, Psalm 119, Psalm 145 etc., etc. Just read 5 Psalms a day for 30 days, and you’ll have read them all. I love the Psalms because every human emotion can be found somewhere in the verses.

John 16:33

Romans 5:3-5

Romans 8

1 Corinthians 1:8

2 Corinthians 1:5

Ephesians 6:10-18

Philippians 4:6-7

Hebrews 12:1-2

James 1:2-4

1 Peter 1:7-9

1 Peter 4:12-13

Revelation 21:3-5

Music

Red Sea Road by Ellie Holcomb. I could listen to this album on repeat for the rest of my life. Favorite songs: “Fighting Words,” “Red Sea Road,” “He Will”
Psalms
by Sandra McCracken. Favorite songs: “My Soul Finds Rest,” “Put Your Trust in God”
“Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul” by Indelible Grace
“The Rain Keeps Falling” by Andrew Peterson
“When Trials Come” by Keith and Kristyn Getty
“Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer” by Keith and Kristyn Getty
“O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” by Selah
“He Will Hold Me Fast” Getty
“My Dwelling Place (Psalm 91)” Getty
“I Will Wait for You (Psalm 130)” Getty (You pretty much can’t go wrong with a Getty song)
“You’re Gonna Be Ok” by Jenn Johnson
“Do Not Lose Heart” by Caroline Cobb
“Lord From Sorrows Deep I Call” by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa
“Weep With Me” by Rend Collective

I have put together a Spotify playlist that I listen to often when I am in need of encouragement. You can find it here.

Books

There are a LOT of books about suffering. I have only read a very small percentage of them. Here are some of my favorites:

Holding On to Hope by Nancy Guthrie
Suffering Is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot
When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper
Polishing God’s Monuments by Jim Andrews
Hope Heals by Katherine and Jay Wolf
The Scars That Have Shaped Me by Vaneetha Risner
Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zack Eswine
The Promise Is His Presence by Glenna Marshall

Now it’s your turn! What are some resources you have found helpful in painful seasons?. Please share in the comments!

Far from Home, Part 2: Dance to the Music

This is part 2 in a series about my time in residential treatment. Part 1 is here.

The schedule at TK was very similar each day. The only thing that varied was the content of the groups. There were multiple groups that met at the same time each day, and I picked the groups I wanted to attend with the guidance of my therapist.

Here’s the basic schedule for my lodge: 

7:00 a.m.: Breakfast
8:30 a.m.: Morning commitments (We had small groups in the lodge, and each morning we had to check in with our current mood and goals for the day. It wasn’t at all awkward or uncomfortable to rate my depression on a scale of 1 to 10 in a room full of other women, haha.)
9:00 a.m.: Group therapy
10:00 a.m.: Break (for phone calls, snacks, meetings with therapist or psychiatrist, etc.)
11:00  a.m.: Group therapy
Noon: Lunch
1:30 p.m.: Community meeting (entire lodge met to talk about any announcements, concerns, issues)
2:00 p.m.: Group therapy
3:00 p.m.: Break
4:00 p.m.: Group therapy
5:00 p.m.: Dinner
7:15 p.m.: Group therapy
9:00 p.m.: Mindfulness (A staff member led us in various activities meant to help us focus on the present/be mindful) 

The first group I went to at TK was called Dance Movement Therapy. When I saw this on the schedule, I immediately balked and was tempted to skip it. The interesting thing about TK and something that distinguishes residential treatment from inpatient treatment is that no one makes you go to any of the groups or activities. You could theoretically sleep all day (and some residents did that, much to my deep confusion–that’s an awfully expensive way to get in some naps). However, I’m a rule follower and schedule freak at heart, so the thought of skipping the very first group didn’t sit well with me, so off I went, not knowing what in the world I was getting myself into. 

There’s not really a good way to describe Dance Movement Therapy (DMT), except to tell you what it’s not. It’s not Zumba or Jazzercise or any kind of choreographed dance. The class is basically all about connecting the body with the mind and showing that through movement. There were 2 therapists for the session, and they played different kinds of music for us while we expressed ourselves through various movements, walking around the room, skipping, twirling, or really whatever we wanted to do. Some of it was guided movement, but a lot of it was independent. The point of DMT is to be content with your body and allow it to move in a way that is comfortable to you. That meant some people hardly moved at all but instead sat quietly, while others danced freely all around the whole room. I fell somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, not wanting to make too much of a spectacle of myself but also not able to resist the way the music spoke to me and made me want to move. Even though I felt ridiculous doing some of the things we did, it was also very freeing. I was in a safe space where no one was judging what I was doing, and no one was really even watching what I was doing because everyone was doing her own thing. I love music, and I found it very soothing to let myself get lost in the rhythms of the songs and move the way I felt like moving. I probably looked clumsy and awkward and completely unskilled, but I didn’t care, and neither did anyone else.  (If this all sounds a little kooky to you or like the dumbest thing in the world, I understand. I would feel the same way if I hadn’t experienced it firsthand.)

Towards the end of our time in the group, the lead therapist had us all find individual spaces in the room to retreat and be quiet. She put on soft music and instructed us to relax and let our minds and bodies simply respond to the words she was going to say. She named off two words I don’t remember, and then she said the word “belonging,” and I felt the tears spring to my eyes. Before I knew it, tears were streaming down my face, and I knew that the word had touched a point of pain in my heart. I have often struggled with feeling like I don’t belong and have wanted desperately to find a place of belonging, and there in that room I was free to admit that to myself and tell myself that wanting that was a natural thing. I prayed that God would help me know that I belonged–heart, mind, body, and soul–to Him, even if all else was in question. I left that group feeling lighter than when I came, and DMT cemented itself as my very favorite group at TK. I still give myself time at home to dance around to music that makes me feel happy and confident. I don’t worry about what I look like or how much space I’m taking up or how ugly or fat I feel; I dance, and I feel free and loved. And for those few minutes, that’s enough. 

Some songs that make me happy (it’s a very eclectic list):

“Calling Me Home” by Emily Brimlow
“Almost (Sweet Music)” by Hozier
“joy.” by For King and Country
“123” by Jess Glynne
“Love Broke Thru” by TobyMac
“Best Day of My Life” by American Authors
“God Is Enough” by Lecrae
“Like We Belong” by GAWVI
“Hard Love” by Needtobreathe
“Let It Rain (Is There Anybody)” by Crowder
“Love Me Again” by John Newman
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake
“Holy” by Jamila Woods
“Glorious Day” by Passion

Far from Home, Part 1: Why I Went to a Residential Treatment Facility for Depression

I have wanted to write about my time at Timberline Knolls, but I haven’t even known where to begin. Being away from home for 4 weeks to live with 30 other women with mental health problems is by far the hardest thing I have ever done, and there wasn’t a day when I was there that I didn’t question what in the world I was doing. However, I know that going was worthwhile. I know that going probably saved my life. And I know that going changed me. There is much that happened, much that I want to tell, but also much that I will keep to myself. 

So here are bits and pieces of my experience at a residential facility, where I received intensive treatment for recurrent, treatment-resistant major depressive disorder

My decision to go to a residential facility actually began while I was still inpatient (for the second time) at a mental hospital in Memphis. I was there for nine days and was miserable the whole time. The only bright spot was my therapist, who met with me every day. Towards the end of my time there, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “There’s a corner you haven’t turned yet. There is more you need to address, and we can’t do it here. You need extended time to heal. You should really consider a residential program.” I was completely taken aback. I hadn’t seen this coming. No one had ever mentioned this before, nor did I even realize that there was such a thing as a residential program for depression where you could actually take extended time away from your life to deal with mental illness. Of course, before this year I had no reason to know such a thing existed, for it certainly wasn’t anything I had needed before, nor has anyone I know ever been to such a place.

My first instinct was to dismiss his suggestion, and I said as much. There was no way I could leave my family for any longer than I already had. There was no way I could ask my husband to bear the full weight of household responsibilities. But then the therapist spoke the obvious: “If you were dead, he’d be taking care of it all, all of the time. Don’t you think he’d rather do it for 30 days instead of the rest of his life?” Though I resisted for a couple of days, after praying and talking it over with Stephen, we made the decision for me to pursue residential treatment. I had tried so many other things to little avail; what if what I needed was something big and drastic? After many tears and a lot of phone calls, I was connected with someone from a program much farther away than I had imagined going: Chicago. Timberline Knolls (TK) supposedly had a good reputation, though, and since I knew I wouldn’t be getting a lot of visitors no matter where I ended up because visiting time is so limited at these kinds of places, I decided it made little difference whether I was two hours away or eight hours a way. A representative from TK did a very detailed, somewhat intrusive phone screening with me (asking me such questions as what medications I take, how often I have suicidal thoughts, what, if any plan I had, etc.) and then told me I was cleared to receive treatment there, and they could accept me as soon as I was able to get there. This all happened on a Friday, and we decided that my parents would drive me part of the way on Monday and finish up the trip on Tuesday, when I would be admitted. 

When I first arrived at TK, I was terrified. My mom and dad waited with me while I went through pre-admission screenings and answered questions I had already answered several times over. At one point I just laid my head on my mom’s shoulder and cried. I felt lost and scared. I couldn’t believe this was my reality. I had left my husband and my girls hundreds of miles away, all because life was too much for me to handle. I felt like a failure and a burden. I remember pleading with the Lord for this to make a difference, for the time not to be wasted, for me to have a renewed appreciation for life. 

After several hours, I was led to the place where I would spend the next four weeks: Willow Lodge. One of the other residents gave me a tour of the facility, which helped me feel a little more comfortable. The lodge is basically a huge house, with several bedrooms that housed anywhere from 2-4 residents. It had a small kitchen where we had our snacks (and where some residents who were not permitted off lodge ate all their meals), a common area called the milieu, and three group rooms where group therapy was held. There was also a medical area (essentially a closet) where nurses dispensed medications three times a day. I feel like I spent more time waiting in line for my medications than anything else!   

I was assigned to a room with two other women, and the following day a third woman was added, bringing my room to full capacity at four. I was really anxious about living with other people, but I was fortunate to have roommates who were easy to get along with and who did not cause drama. We each had a twin bed and a chest of drawers and a small open closet to hang up some clothes, and we had a display board where we could hang up pictures or other mementos. One of my friends had taken the time to make several printouts of various Scriptures and put them on pretty scrapbook paper, so I was able to rotate through these the whole time I was gone. It was a simple gesture that made living in an unfamiliar place a little more bearable, and I was so grateful for it. 

The first night I was there was a blur. I wrote in my journal, begging God to be near and asking Him to deliver me from darkness and restore to me the joy of my salvation. I didn’t know how He would do it, but I prayed that being at TK was setting me on the path to get there.

To be continued…